Capt. Damon runs Super Strike Charters in Venice, LA. He has been a full-time captain for 16 years. In June 2009, he was appointed to serve on the Gulf of Mexico fishery management Council and has become very active in fishery management decisions.
April 18, 2013
Springtime means Tuna on Top
by Capt. Damon Mcknight
Springtime means, Time for top waters in the Northern Gulf.
During the spring and into early summer top-water action for Yellow fin and Black fin tuna, along with Mahi-Mahi is usually excellent. This time of the year in the northern Gulf there are a lot of 30-80lb. tuna that do not hesitate to take a top-water lure. Live bait is still the king of producing fish, but, in the early part of spring, live bait can be very hard to come by due to water temperatures, water clarity, salinity, current, and lack of the right size or kind anywhere near your path on the way to catch tuna. Venice is a unique port because inside it is mostly fresh water due to the Mississippi River, however, once you get out of the pass you are mostly in Salt Water. This time of the year the river is higher than any other part of the year because of run off coming down from the Northern States. The more rain, snow, and ice you have up north, the higher the river will be as it empties into the Gulf. This will narrow down your opportunities to find live bait until you are well offshore most days, and with fresh water in port, you can't keep it alive for the next day of fishing. Some days you can spend hours looking for live-bait during April and into May and find very little. There are days that we have arrived at the tuna grounds with as few as 5 live-baits in the well, they did produce fish, but after that you were done, if they wouldn't eat artificial. But, Barracudas can be tough to deal with as well so your 3 hours of catching live bait during this time of the year could possibly result in the cuda's getting most of it. So, here is where the top waters come into play. Sure, you could risk heading out without worrying about catching live bait and depending solely on top water for the most part, but, they don't always work. However, when they do it is very explosive and exciting.
What you want to look for when targeting Tuna on top-water is surface activity. Usually when the Tuna are busting minnows(various kinds about 1 inch long that hang out in Sargasum Grass), flying fish, or Man-of-War fish your chances are good at getting them to eat your top-water lure. If you pull up and you see zero surface activity then you want to find the fish on the fish finder to make sure there are any in the area. If you don't mark anything chances are it is time to move on. However, some days that can be deceiving because they are constantly moving. The up-current side of the structure is usually where most of the pelagics hang, so if your not marking or seeing fish on the up-current side after say 10-15 minutes it might be time to move on to the next location. Usually scattered grass is an indicator if fish are in the area as well. They will come up faster if there is scattered grass because that is where the majority of the bait is. Chances are if there is scattered grass in the areas around structure, there are probably fish there.
One of the most important parts about fishing for Tuna on top-water is your tackle. Good spinning reels and good solid spinning rods are a must have. The reels that I prefer, though pricey, is the Stella 20000 matched with Bar-Bar tackle spinning rods. It is a custom rod 7ft., 50-80lb. on a Calstar blank. You don't want a rod as stiff as a board when it comes to fishing Tuna on top waters because you need to be able to cast as far as you possibly can and you don't want to pull the hooks. So, some flex is a must, but you don't want a rod that has so much bend that it takes you forever to get your fish in, so you will need a rod with some leverage. (Other reels that have worked very good and area little less expensive are the Shimano Bait Runner, Thunnus, and Spheros) The reels are spooled with Power Pro Slick 80lb. Most days 65lb. will work and you will be able to cast it a bit further, but, if the fish are in the 100lb. range or you happen to catch a rogue Blue Marlin which happens often when using poppers it helps to have a little bit heavier line. When we first started catching Tuna on top waters the Yozuri hydro-tiger was a huge producer and for the most part the only thing on the market. They were small and light-weight and you had to change out the hooks, which I will get into later. Nowadays, there is a huge selection for Top water poppers. There are plenty to choose from, some are made of wood, plastic, fiberglass resin, or light metals. My favorite right now is wood. They can take a beating and are much more forgiving to the gel coat if you have a bad cast. The fiberglass and plastic lures will crack or puncture which will make them short-lived. The wooden top waters will out last the rest. The Heru, Cubera model is on the top of the list, followed by the OTI Wombat. The Heru will need split rings and hooks added to them, the OTI comes ready to go with strong hooks so you won't need to change them out. The build of the Heru and OTI are very similar as far as quality goes. I chose the Heru over the OTI only because I caught more fish on it last year. But both are built to last and produce fish. There are a lot more choices out there as well. Frenzy and Shimano have good poppers though they don't seem to produce fish all the time. The cheaper versions such as the Williamson and Tsunami do work but the hooks will need to be changed if your catching decent sized Tuna, but while de-hooking them, is when most break. Both the Heru and OTI have great surface action. You can give it a hard pop and it looks good, then you can rest a second and go again. At least half of the tuna that hit, will hit when it comes to a stand still, after you pop it. They cause a lot of water to move on each pop, which attract the fish most days. The Frenzy is a good top water action lure, though it doesn't float, so you have to reel and pop at the same time to keep it on top, so you are going to be worn out after a few casts.
Fishing top-water is very exciting, rewarding, but also heart breaking. We have lost more fish on top-waters than any other style of tuna fishing. On the bigger fish using spinning gear is a long battle, that is anything over 100lbs. The bigger fish have a knack for either spitting, breaking the hooks, or breaking you off when catching them on poppers. There were plenty of days when you were wearing out the 50lbers. on top, then you would see the big boy hit, 120+, and you just knew that one wasn't gonna make it in the boat, and they usually don't. However, the tackle is definitely getting better and stronger for this type of fishing, but, the bigger fish seem to have gotten keen over the years when it comes to poppers, so most of the tuna we do catch on top are the 30-80lbers., which is really all most people can handle on spinning gear. I prefer to leave the big fish to the heavier tackle, but, if you are up for it and you can get him to hit. It is awesome.
Capt. Damon Mcknight/Super Strike Charters LLC
Pictured is Mr. Womack with a nice 70lb. Yellowfin Tuna caught on a Heru Cubera (Green). Notice the grass in the water in the pictures. Though there was more grass than what you can see, you will almost always have more success if there is some scattered grass around.
February 11, 2013
Tuna and Technology
by Damon Mcknight
Tuna fishing and Technology.
The fishing these days, it has changed tremendously over the past 15 years. This change has made things much better for the fisherman and to every fisherman's delight, not so good for the fish. The equipment that most fisherman use has certainly come a long way since the mid 1990's, and it starts from the boats and motors all the way down to the leader and hooks. Electronics have become so sophisticated that most people don't use or even know certain features on their own units. When I first started in the fishing business everyone ran twin-diesel sport-fishing boats and now they are just about obsolete in our area, and seem to be heading in that direction in others, but that could be for several reasons, which is a story for another day. We had twin KAMD 42 Volvos on our first boat and we knew they were good for about three days and then you spent two days fixing something that broke, mainly tensioner pulleys, and nothing cost less than one-thousand dollars to fix on a turbo diesel engine. This was actually the case for most charter Captains who ran diesels on an everyday basis. But they sure could raise a Marlin and it sounded great listening to the turbo's kick in while taking off just before light to get to blue-water. Those are now days in the past and today outboards or what some of the old timers call "Clip On's", are definitely the faster, easier, and more economical way to go. Now that they offer center console boats in the 42ft. range with dependable quad or triple-outboards, a portion of the big boat owners are selling their 60ft. Hatteras or Viking, and replacing them with go fast boats. This seems to be the new trend in offshore fishing.
Since 2004, the Yellow fin Tuna state record has been broken 9 times in La. Since about 2002 we started seeing numerous Yellow Fin come into the docks, weighing over 175lbs. Before that time frame, we actually had very few that big come in on a regular basis, but they were definitely out there, it could be because there were less people fishing but there were still plenty of expert Fisherman, fishing the same areas that these big fish were coming from way before 2002, and also stories of the big one that got away due to equipment failure, being spooled, or lack of knowledge. You would always here someone on the radio transmit that they just hooked into a big one, only to come back just as quick to say they got spooled. In the 90's and very early 2000 it always seemed like rods were breaking (Penn Tuna Stick) and tackle failures were very common. In 1992, a company that was developing a line for flying super kites stumbled onto what is now Power Pro. In 1997, Power Pro was introduced and a couple of years later they came out with the larger diameter Power Pro in 80lb. It took a couple of years for it to really catch on, because we were still using 80lb. monofilament on 30 and 50 wide's but we were also getting spooled sometimes on days we were on the bigger fish. So, in about 2003-2004 using a top shot started to catch on and we were filling our reels with 80lb. Power Pro, and using some of the higher priced brand mono's such as Jinkai and Momoi, to put about 150 yards of top shot on the reel. Off the subject for one second, the first time I used Jinkai 80lb. we were in the fish thick, big tuna. Along came a boat that dropped his anchor and I won't mention names, but he dropped right next to us because he saw that we were in the fish. Well, about the time his anchor rope came tight we hooked into a big Yellow fin tuna and it went right to his anchor rope, figures. Well it burned out line so fast, it burned right through his anchor rope and cut his anchor off and we caught the fish. I think he learned his lesson and I was feeling pretty good about it. Turned out to be a 132lber. Here is what happened since the introduction of better tackle. In 2002, the new state record came in at 232lbs., before that catching one over 200lbs. was almost unheard of. So, in 2004, which is about the time when Power Pro and adding a top shot became really popular, the state records started dropping every year to bigger fish. In 2005 (224 and 240lber.), 2006 (229 and 230lber.), and 2007, (222, 229, and 233lber.). These are still in the top ten. There were many Yellow fin in 2007over 200lbs. as well, and more than I have ever seen in the 180+lb. range. This is also the time that fluorocarbon, newly designed circle hooks, and better rods and reels were flooding the market. Without the use of Power Pro, a top-shot, fluorocarbon, and being able to hold 800 yards on smaller but stronger diameter line, in my opinion half of these big fish would not have been caught. We just didn't catch the bigger fish like this on a consistent basis before this type of tackle was introduced. Right now, the top ten fish in the state were all caught in a 20 square mile area since 2002, big fish are still coming from this area but not like they were. In 2012 the new state record came in at 251 pounds, but that has been about it since 2007. In 2008-2011 fishing seasons, we did see a decline in the bigger Yellow fin Tuna in this area, mainly the migrators. They are still out there but not quite as many that use to come to this area. Now don't get me wrong, you can still go out and have a great day catching all 100 plus pound tuna., but it just isn't happening as much as it use to.
The fishing has definitely changed due to the change in technology, and fishermen are changing along with it, becoming much more proficient while doing so. But, so are the fish. They are getting smarter as well. When I first started Tuna fishing all you needed was a couple of Rapala's and a daisy chain and you could catch all you wanted. Now, you have to sometimes have several different species of live bait and possibly some chum to go along with it. Certain top-water lures were a sure thing to catch Tuna while they were busting on the surface. Not any more, you had better have an assortment and try them till you find one they like. You can get satellite weather on your boat to decide more easily if you need to come back to port, or continue fishing for another several hours. Radars are now user friendly and present an unbelievable image to be able to run in fog or complete darkness. The larger center consoles, which have lately become the boat of choice for Northern Gulf anglers fishing offshore can make it out safely and faster on some of the more windy days, when before you may skip a day to avoid the beating. With today's technology, including the internet, those that use to have to learn for a few years how to fish, can now do it successfully in half the time.
Gulf fishermen have certainly come a long way since the mid 90's. However, the fishing today still remains just as strong, if not better, than it was 15 years ago. That shows just how resilient the Gulf and the species that live in it really are.
Capt. Damon McKnight
Super Strike Charters
April 17, 2012
Spring-Summer Offshore Venice, La.
by Capt. Damon McKnight/Super Strike Charters
Spring to Summer Offshore Fishing Venice, La.
The title is Spring to Summer offshore fishing out of Venice, La. but we really didn't have a winter or spring so let's just go with early summer fishing out of Venice, La. The weather has been a little tough this year. March was certainly the month to fish so far in 2012 with 18 fishable days with most of them being very nice. The tuna bite was incredible along with Wahoo and Amberjack. You know you have a lot of Amberjack when you are catching them on a drift line. The Yellow fin were a little smaller than what were use to with most of them being in the 30lb. range, although there were still plenty 100-150lbs. plus. I can't forget to mention that the number 2 Yellow fin in the state was caught also which weighed in at 235lbs. So as you can see it was a crazy year and a very mixed bag including sizes and variety.
We are now in mid-April and you need to know what is going on in the offshore waters out of Venice, La. The tuna bite has been very strong and should remain that way. With the unusually warm water for this time of the year we are going to see everything about a month or possibly two earlier than what we were getting . Over the past four years, everything was about a month or two late so what we are seeing now is just about right on track, maybe a little early, if you followed the weather patterns over the past 15 years. When I say everything should be a month or two earlier, I am primarily talking about those species that we usually wouldn't see in any numbers, until Mid-June or even early July. Those species include Dorado, Marlin, smaller Wahoo (20-30lbs.) and cobia. Last week while fishing, April 10th to be exact, you might have thought you were out there in late June. A perfect rip line formed about 20 miles offshore and it was completely full of Dolphin (a good percentage were bulls), Wahoo, and Tuna. Bait-fish were all over the place including flying fish and bally-hoo. This could be a great start to having an incredible season of offshore fishing. One of the most important things you have to have for unusually high success while fishing is for everything to come together. Most days you get one or two variables that will help you produce fish. There are very few days that all of the variables that you need for success will be lined up and if this season keeps going the way it is with bait fish, warm water, targeted species, great weather, and a northerly direction push from the currents, we may just have an incredible year. So far, so good.
The most productive methods during the Spring and Summer while fishing offshore for pelagic species are usually live-baiting, trolling, and chumming. Lets start with Tuna and how they have changed over the years. When I first got into Tuna fishing all you needed was a CD-18 Rapala of any color or a squid chain (daisy chain) and you would have guaranteed success. You didn't have to run very far out of the pass to catch them either. Well, it has changed tremendously over the past 5, 10, and 15 years. I am not sure what it is attributed to, possibly the fish are getting smarter and there aren't as many as before, or it could just be the pressure. The amount of boats offshore fishing for tuna has been on the incline over the years. Either way you have got to be prepared when the opportunity presents itself and you have to be quick. What a lot of people do not realize is that you have to move at the speed of the bite. High fives, too many pictures, and what one of our Captains refers to as "moving at the speed of smell" will slow down your day more than you think. You never know when you will hook your last fish of the day so as soon as you catch that first fish, you had better get the lines back out fast and hope for the next. This will turn a slow to mediocre day into an unbelievable day. Most of the time it goes down in about 1-2 hours, so that is your window. Tuna are incredibly finicky some days so I am sure the saying "as finicky as a tuna" was created by a fisherman who had them jumping all around the boat but wouldn't eat. I know the feeling all to well. With that being said, you have got to be prepared these days with more bait than you may be able to get. The number one bait of choice by Tuna and fisherman in the northern gulf is probably Blue Runners (Hard Tails) in the 4-6 inch size class. This species is plentiful, durable, and can live in a live well all day. You will know if you have the right ones because by the end of the day, the insides of your hands will be torn up from handling them. They have extremely sharp bones at the end of their tails that you don't feel until its too late. They are also known as Tuna-candy, Tuna-crack, or butter beans by some of the local captains. Most of the time any sabiki rig (Hayabusa, Frenzy, Owner, Mustad, and Ahi) will allow you to catch as many as you want and they are found around grass patches, buoys, and rigs. If you can find the butter beans, more than likely your going to have a good day of offshore fishing. If live bait is hard to find, which I do not think this year it will be because of the warmer temperatures, the next best method is going to be chumming. You usually want to bring a minimum of 50lbs. of frozen menhaden and if you can find a few, Bonita. You want to set up drift over the top of where you have seen the fish either busting the surface or where you have marked them on the fish finder. Most days they are crashing on the surface so it won't be hard to locate your target. Cut up about 10lbs. of menhaden mixed in with a cut up bonita, and start chumming the water. After you get a few hand-full's out there, then go ahead and bait up a circle hook with a tail section, or chunk of bonita, (hide the hook) and toss it out with a handful of chum next to the boat and let it drift downward. Some days the fish will immediately come up to the surface to feed, other days they won't eat until the line drifts back 25 yards plus. The upside to chumming is that it usually does not take long to know if you will be successful or not. If they aren't on it within the first 20 minutes more than likely it isn't going to work. If you spotted the fish and you know they are there, try a couple of different techniques. If you can't get a bite, you can either wait them out in hopes that they turn on, (usually persistence pays off) or you can come back to the spot later in the day. There are other species of live bait such as Threadfin Herring, Tinker Mackerel, Goggle-Eyes, Butter Fish, baby chicken dolphin, scad, and flying fish that have incredible results but they are tough to get during certain times of the year, you can depend on being able to find these species about 15% of the time. Herring are usually the most plentiful during the summer months. Another very successful method of Tuna fishing is casting top-water plugs into the schools of Tuna busting on the surface. Once they get into a feeding frenzy they aren't as tough to hook. Being able to place a top water plug such as an OTI (Wombat) or Frenzy Angry Popper into the middle of feeding Yellow fin Tuna is very exciting and usually rewarding. Just remember not to horse them in the beginning and let them run with it for a minute to insure they are hooked good.
The rest of the pelagic species such as Dorado, Wahoo, and Marlin will mostly come off of the troll. Mainly around rip lines, floaters, buoys, or anything with substantial size floating on the surface, such as a wooden pallet or a tree. My bait of choice for these species is a Blue/White Ilander rigged with a bally hoo while trolling. I usually put out a 4 to 5 line spread, depending on how the fish are feeding, which consists of two Marlin Baits in a variety of colors, Two Ilanders (blue/white and Pink/white), and a wahoo bomb down the middle. The colors that seem to produce the most Marlin hits are Pink/White and Purple/Black. Joe Yee, Makaira, Black Bart, and Cajun Yap are some of the brands I like, mainly just for confidence, but my feeling is that they will hit just about anything you have out there most days. Some days they are very particular and I may end up going to all Blue/White Ilanders either rigged or unrigged with bally-hoo depending on the amount of smaller fish feeding. Sometimes the bally-hoo will attract the smaller fish to pick at your baits such as chicken dolphin (mainly) other times bonita, barracuda, and 3lb. hardtails. If they become a problem I will only pull unrigged baits, which means when you do get a hit, it is a good one. For the most part the entire spread will catch all of these species so you really can't go wrong. Just be prepared for all hell to break lose when trolling a rip because it can and does happen. Expect to get triple or quadruple hook-ups with jumping and twisting Dolphin or a double hook-up on Marlin. There is nothing more fun than watching it all go down at once. We also catch Dolphin and Marlin, with the occasional wahoo, while live-baiting for Tuna around the floaters as well.
Gear we use:
For Trolling: I like to use two 50 wides (Duel Reels) matched with 80-130lb. 5'2 inch stand-up rods. I put the Marlin Baits (Joe Yee/Black Bart) on these reels and run them as the long lines. The rest are 30 wides (Duel Reels) with 5'6-60-unlimited custom calstar stand up rods. I put the Ilanders, Wahoo Bombs, or anything else that would work on the flat and center lines. Sometimes if most of the fish are on the smaller side avg. 20-30lbs., I will run Torsa 40's on the short lines for wahoo and dolphin.
For Live Baiting and Chumming: I use just about everything I've got for this. Most days I run the 30 wides, others might be the Torsa 40's, and some days we have the spinning reels set up ready to catch small hard tails into the schools of tuna. When the fish are on the smaller side you can definitely use smaller tackle such as the Torsas. Most of the time we are using straight 80lb. line, but some days we have to go down to 40-60lb. fluorocarbon to get a bite. Then again some days we can use 130lb. mono. And it works just as good. So you really have to determine just how good the fish are feeding and the size class of fish you will more than likely catch.
For Top-Water Casting: We go all out on our tackle so these set-ups aren't necessary but definitely are nice to use when the fish are going crazy. 20000 Shimano Stellas matched to 7'0 Custom Calstar rods made by Bar Bar tackle. They are great for casting and are more than capable of putting a 100+lb. Yellow fin Tuna in the boat. If you are not that good of a caster you may need to go with a longer rod for distance. Tuna know where that imaginary line is to stay just out of casting distance from most boats so being able to get a little further is key to catching fish some days. The Stellas are spooled with 80lb. Power Pro, barrel swivel on the end, and about 2ft. of 80lb. monofilament for leader. The mono leader is a necessity because it serves as a shock leader and will give some stretch when fighting a head popping tuna. You need it.
Fighting Belts: These are a must have when it comes to bringing in any fish of size. Braid, Aftco, and Smitty are what we use and are all equally impressive. You have to be careful with the smitty because of the aluminum gimbal which will take out a chunk of fiberglass if it rubs against the gunnel. If you are meticulous about your equipment then you will more than likely want to keep a close eye on the angler while wearing this belt and leaning on the gunnel.
Gaffs: Top Shot gaffs are what I prefer. They have a solid Stainless Steel Hook, almost looks like it was make out of a horseshoe, and a fiberglass handle that has just enough give to it. I have been using them for years and have only broken one and have had 2 pulled out of my hands, both were 8 footers. I stick to 6 foot gaffs now. I have broken or bent way to many Aftco gaffs. I can't tell you how many times I have been left standing there with two rubber hand grips in my hand and the fish sounding with the gaff stuck in his back. They are a good gaff for the money but not for everyday use offshore.
Capt. Damon McKnight
Super Strike Charters
January 04, 2012
Wahoo Fishing off the Coast of La.
by Damon McKnight
Its Wahoo Time!
The winter months (Jan.-March) are the most productive months to fish for Wahoo off the coast of La. The avg. size wahoo caught is between 45-65lbs. However, you can expect to catch a few in the 80-100lb. range, and if it is your lucky day, you'll get one or more over a hundred. This is the time of year for catching big Wahoo, and not only are they a lot of fun to catch, they are the reason why some of us become highly addicted to offshore fishing. There is nothing like the first strike from a 50+lb. Wahoo, which can make a reel scream at a level that you didn't think was possible while peeling out an unbelievable amount of line in a matter of seconds. This is why you couldn't sleep the night before and when it is finally time to head out the excitement is overwhelming. This is what its all about…
The first thing that you want to do before a day of Wahoo fishing is get the tackle ready. On a good day of wahoo fishing they can literally clean you out of all the tackle you have to catch wahoo. If your using lures then you need to have at least 3 or more of what you believe to be the most preferred color, or have had good results in your area. In our area the color is Pink, anything pink seems to be preferred most days. However, they will change on you and some years some of the better colors have been blue/silver, black/silver, purple, orange/black, green/red and just plain old white. Some of the fish patterns that work well are Mullet, Mackerel, and Bonita patterns. The diving plug brands that I like to use are Bomber, Manns (Stretch 30), Rapala (the old and new version which is the x-rap), Braid, and Yozuri. The Braid Marauder and Wahoo Bombs are very productive but are also expensive so be ready to lose a few. The mullet Rapala (cd-18) has produced the larger wahoo while the pink Stretch 30 usually produces quantity. Surface baits such as Islander, Pakula, and Joe Yee also have very good results. The surface baits usually work better during the summer months but always have at least 2 or 3 Islanders (blue/white) in your bag ready to go. They work great on a downrigger or rigged with bally-hoo. Once you've got the lures your going to use, your now going to have to rig them so that you get the most strikes and the least amount of break-offs. You can buy a lot of this stuff pre-rigged, but you need to be able to rig yourself because you will need to change some things once your offshore. I rig all of my diving lures with wire. I almost always use Malin stainless steel wire in the 80lb., 93lb., and 108lb. class. Most day's 93lb. wire works the best. If I know the bite is going to be very good and the fish are on the larger size I may bump up to 108 just for the extra margin of error. To the bait of choice I use a haywire twist straight to the eye provided and use a 200lb. barrel swivel (Sampo, Owner, Sea Striker) with a haywire twist on the other end. Some people prefer using crimps and cable but it stands out more and will rust. The cons of wire are that it will break easier and if the hooked fish is able to get a loop in it, which sometimes happens, when it comes tight, it will break some times. The pros are that it doesn't rust as easy as cable and it usually produces better results because of the diameter.. Live Bait is probably the King of getting finicky wahoo to bite. Mullets or big Hard Tails work the best. During the winter months live bait can be hard to come by, but if you can find it, your success rate will be much higher. A live bait rig is about a 4ft. wire attached to an owner live bait hook (5/0) then attach either one or two stinger treble hooks to the live bait hook with 2-3 inches of wire in between each hook. When your ready to rig your live bait you put the j-hook in the head or mouth then attach 1 stinger treble to the mid-section, and 1 stinger to the tail section. If your live bait is small you can get by with a two hook system, using one j-hook in the head and 1 treble in the mid-section. Be-careful with this rig because this is the one that sticks fingers and hands most often. Usually the live bait is not cooperating as your inserting the hooks into his skin and they will wiggle and squirm, so be sure to keep a tight grip on the bait to prevent getting a hook in your handOne of the most important pieces to your lure arsenal is how you store them. Between all the treble hooks, wire, huge J Hooks, and rough seas you can end up with a giant mess on your hands. The last thing you want to have to do is untangle your lures during a hot wahoo bite or any other time for that matter. Most days there isn't enough time for that and the bite will be over. You need to be able to get to your bait of choice quickly and get the line back out into the water. The most simple and easy way to organize your diving plugs is by using a 5 gallon bucket and PVC Pipe. You can get a 5 gallon bucket anywhere. You also need to cut enough 3 inch pvc and 2 inch pvc in 1ft. sections to fill the five gallon bucket to create a tight fit. Just like that you created a Wahoo tackle box. Once you have the bucket ready to go you can drop your diving baits in it. You want to roll the wire up in a circle so that it rests tightly at the top of the pvc. This way you can pull them out of the pvc pipe quickly without tangling it. You will also want to drill some holes in the bottom of the bucket so that it will drain. At the end of the day you can put your lures back in the bucket and wash them all down inside of it. Allow everything to dry before storing it, and your good to go for the next trip.
The type of rods and reels to use is really personal preference. Most people aren't going to have a rod n reel for each species of fish they plan to catch. It is however important to use a high quality reel that can handle a fish that is running 30 mph or faster and burning your drag and can hold at least 400 yards of braid or mono. A real with 6:1 gear ratio is definitely a plus. I personally use Torsa 40's spooled with 400 yards of 100lb. braid with an 80lb. mono top shot matched with medium weight custom stand-up rods (60-80lbs.). This set-up works great for me and how I like to fish. Some people use heavy weight rods and reels (50 tiagras and 80-130lb. stand up rods) while others go much lighter. The initial strike is going to be fast and hard so you just have to be sure that you have the right tackle and can handle a fish like this. A must have is a good 6ft. or 8ft. gaff, depending on leader length and a long pair of pliers or de-hooker to remove the lure. You absolutely do not want to stick your hands anywhere near the mouth of a wahoo because of all the razor sharp teeth. If we hook a wahoo on a live bait rig, that rig is history. Unclip the wire from the snap swivel and put the fish in the box. You can cut them out later if you want.
Where to find Wahoo.
Wahoo are a pelagic fish and they tend to move around a lot. During the winter months we get a huge migration of wahoo of off the La. coast. They are here in all sizes, but mostly size Large. They are here to spawn and to feed. The main species of fish that they are feeding on are mullets, menhaden, bonita, blackfin tuna, and hardtails. It is not unusual to find flying fish, trigger fish, small amberjack, and mackerel in their bellies either. Most of the time if you can find large concentrations of bait fish, your going to find wahoo. Other days you may not see a single bait fish on the surface, so your going to be looking for any type of structure in 200ft. or better. Usually a depth of 200ft. to 400ft (max) during the winter months. In our area the structures that produce the most wahoo are oil rigs. But during the winter months you really need to be in an area that is holding bait fish. Whether around a rig or in open water, bait fish, usually on the surface are a good sign that there may be wahoo close by. Water clarity is a must. Wahoo feed by sight so if the water is too dirty, your chances go way down of having a successful day. Green water is usually the minimum when it comes to water that wahoo prefer to concentrate in, so the cleaner the water, the better the bite is usually. Some days the surface water is dirty green or brown, however, 5-10ft. below could be cobalt blue. So you really need to pay attention to your prop wash to see if your kicking up any clean water. You can also use the sea surface charts to determine where the warmer water is. Usually the warmer the water, the cleaner it will be.
I like to use 4 lines while trolling for Wahoo during the winter. Depending on the bite, the majority of the time I will use two bombers and two Braid marauders. Some days I run the marauders on the short lines and others I will pull the bombers on the short lines. It all depends on how the fish are feeding. If it is on and the fish are basically hitting everything you've got…then it doesn't matter, just get the line out. But, it is usually not that easy. Most of the time there will be some trial and error for sure. Some days they may only hit one color whether it be short or long, if this is the case, put the color they want out or something very similar, most of the time it will work. Most days they want the long lines so put what you think will work best out long first. A good fish finder can make a big difference in how you run your lines. I like to have my lines in the water and pulling (9 knots) before I get to the spot that I think the wahoo are, I usually put them out about 200 yards short, just to be sure everything is set and ready. The first pass is usually the best so be ready. During the first pass you want to locate the fish on the fish finder before you have the baits over them. If they are marking 60ft. or less, more than likely your going to get a strike. If you make your pass and have no luck, go one more time from the other direction. Sometimes they may only strike if the bait is swimming in from one direction. Usually it is from the up-current side and one corner of the area your fishing, but not always. If still no luck you may want to change your speed or lure choice. The speed at which you pull your lures is not always the same. You will have to adjust to current and wave height and style of lure. If you pull thru an area and get a strike and catch a wahoo, then you can't seem to get another one on, move on to the next location and come back to where you had strikes earlier in the day. I have seen a 1 or 2 fish spot in the morning, turn into a 9-15 fish spot in the afternoon. There is going to be a prime feeding time for wahoo so you have to be there at the right time. Another thing to remember is that fishing pressure will affect the bite. If you have 5 or 6 boats trolling the same area that you know are holding wahoo you may not get a strike. Best bet is to come back later after all the other boats have left and try again. If you are getting strikes and catching fish on artificial bait, and for no reason at all the bite stops quickly, or it has gotten crowded around the area holding fish, this is when you want to break out the live bait. This should add a few more fish to the box before leaving a certain area. Artificial will usually put more numbers of fish in the box but live-bait will produce fish when the bite isn't very strong or there is too much pressure.
How to keep a Wahoo hooked –up
This is probably the hardest part of the Wahoo fishing experience. Strikes are usually easy to get, finding them can be tough at times but not usually, during the right time of the year. Keeping them on the hook after the initial strike is the most critical part of wahoo fishing and can be downright frustrating at times. Anyone with any experience knows that you have about a 50 percent chance of actually getting that fish in the boat. The absolute most important thing to do once you get a strike is to stay at trolling speed and do not take the rod out of the rod holder. You want to be sure the fish is hooked and to give him a chance to come back after the bait if he misses it the first couple of times. I will usually let them run down to a certain depth on the spool or until they slow down some from the initial strike before I come off the gas. The angler should then put the rod in his hands as your pulling off the throttles to take up any slack in the line, although you shouldn't get any, and to make sure the rod stays bent. After the boat has slowed down enough to take in some line, you want to slowly work the fish to the boat while keeping the rod bent at all times. Wahoo have a hard bony beak type head and jaw, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. They tend to pop their mouths a lot once hooked, and turn and run in the opposite direction after the first strike creating a lot of slack in the line. This is why sometimes the Capt. of the boat needs to throttle up to help the angler keep the slack out of the line. Even with a high gear ratio reel and extra fast cranker, the angler can't keep up with the fish. When this happens give it some juice and take the slack out with the engines. You of course need to be sure the boat is angled correctly to do this. Keeping the slack out of the line is everything when it comes to wahoo fishing. If you have multiple hook-ups, only work the boat if you can, you just have to hope for the best in this situation. Keep in mind that when it comes to wahoo fishing 2 out of 4 ain't bad. I can't even say how many wahoo we have lost over the years but it is definitely more than we caught, especially in the early years. The captain is going to play a big role in helping the angler land big wahoo because he will have to keep the boat positioned correctly. The bigger wahoo have a tendency to circle once on the surface and make there way back towards the props and under the boat, it is up to the captain to keep this 6ft. long fish from getting back there. Other days when the wind and current are working against you it is that much harder.
These are some of the little but important things I do to increase my success while wahoo fishing.
1. Make sure the drags are set correctly and your fishing line is in good shape. You definitely don't want to put any more drag than what you need.
2. Sharpen your hooks. Wahoo hit the bait lightning fast and a lot of the time they miss. The hooks sometimes end up in the belly, side, or anywhere but the mouth of the fish. The sharper the hooks the better the chances that your going to get him somewhere else. I have caught a lot of foul hooked wahoo.
3. You may need to change the hooks out on some brands of lures. Although most of the more popular brands have put stronger treble hooks on, you definitely need to check. Always have an extra box of treble hooks on the boat and some split-ring pliers. You will have to change hooks out at some point and it could be on the only remaining lure you have in the box or bucket.
4. Try and troll your lures in a side sea on rough days. When your trolling into a head-sea most of the time you can't get the speed you need for success and if you are trolling in a following-sea your going at different speeds in-between waves. Keeping a constant speed with as little variation usually has better results.
Right time-of-year and weather are the two most important factors when it comes to fishing Wahoo, or any other species for that matter. If you time it right you can be very successful and turn a dream fishing trip into reality. The key times of the year for big Wahoo are November-March (January-March being the best). Then again in June-July, which are mostly smaller wahoo (20-40lbs.) fished on grass and current lines. The weather during the winter months can be downright brutal. You want to fish in between the cold fronts. Luckily January and February are usually fairly mild as compared to the other three. Fog can be a problem in our area as well so if you are planning on navigating yourself, be sure your vessel is equipped with a good GPS and Radar, that you know how to use.
I am including a few pics. From the fishing bucket, certain lures we use, and a few wahoo we have caught along the way.
Capt. Damon Mcknight
Super Strike Charters
December 14, 2011
Offshore Fishing in Venice, La. (2011-2012 Winter Time)
by Capt. Damon McKnight
First thing I want to do is introduce myself. My name is Capt. Damon McKnight and I own and operate Super Strike Fishing Charters. I am a full-time Offshore Charter Captain fishing out of Venice, La. Our boats are moored at the Venice Marina. This April will be my 16th year in the offshore charter business. I've got a lot of stories and a lot of information that I have learned throughout the years to share with the readers. I can tell you that you learn something new every time your out there fishing. Every time you think you have something figured out in the offshore world something happens that changes your theory. Offshore fishing will always continue to surprise everyone that does it.
The offshore fishing out of Venice, La. has just about come to a complete stop due to back to back cold fronts and high winds. The winds started back in mid-October, got worse in November, and here we are in mid-December in the same situation. But, it really isn't that uncommon of a problem this time of the year. The experienced fisherman know this and take this extra time to prepare their boats, tackle, and do some more than likely highly needed maintenance. The good news is that as we move past December and into January the winds will calm down enough to let us get offshore and chase what has now become the most sought after species while fishing out of Venice, La., the Yellow Fin Tuna. The winter months which are one of the best times of the year to catch BIG tuna are just about upon us once again. If you consider yourself a hardcore fisherman than this is the " in thing" to do. If your not chasing Tuna of the coast of La. then your missing out. Also, it just wouldn't be right not to mention that we also get huge Wahoo in the 50-100lb. range. A few wahoo over 100lbs. are caught but it isn't that likely, it has to be your luck day. My next report I will cover the techniques of what and what not to do while wahoo fishing and areas to fish.
There are two major areas that we fish during the winter months. One is the "Midnight Lump" and the other is an area very similar to the Lump but over 70 miles away. These two tuna producing areas have made fishing for Tuna during the winter very productive. I don't think anyone knows for sure why the Tuna migrate to these areas every year but of course there are some theories. The one theory that I can agree with is the fact that they are going where the food is. Menhadden, Flying Fish, Bonita, Bally-Hoo and Mullet are very abundant during this time of the year in both areas and the Yellow Fin Tuna are onto this, and probably have been for who knows how long. The other theory is that they come to these two areas to spawn. The other not so certain ideas are that this is part of their migration route and pass thru this area in big numbers every year at this time for no particular reason or the currents guide them here since there can sometimes be a very strong loop current that pushes just south of this area. It could be all of these variables which would make sense, but one thing for sure is that they are definitely off the coast of La. and are making fisherman very happy.
The most successful style of fishing for Tuna during the Winter is chumming menhaden (aka pogies). One rule of thumb is to never leave the dock with less than 100lbs. Hopefully you won't use but a 1/4 of that but you never know for sure what you will need. 100lbs. seems to do the trick most days. Once you arrive to the area your fishing you will want to try and mark fish on the sounder. It is a lot easier to set up your chum line on top of the fish then to try and draw them in, although that works as well. You just get a faster response if you set up on top of them, makes sense right. Usually, as soon as we stop I throw two handfuls of cut pogies into the water and then get the rods ready to fish. You want to keep a fairly steady line going, so once the chum is out of sight you usually want to throw the next handful in. Using 30 wides most days spooled with 130 lb. braid and 80lb mono topshot and either a 7/0 circle hook (frenzy) or 10/0 (mustad) depending on brand. Usually the tail section works the best when you put it on the hook. You can sink it down deep and it stays on better then the mid-section. Unfortunately not all frozen pogies are created equally and some days you get a bad batch. What that means is they have been unfrozen and refrozen several times. The more times they are refrozen the worse condition they will be in when you use them. If you have a choice only buy frozen pogies with a clear eye. They will hold up much better. If the eyes are cloudy or don't look fresh, more than likely your going to have mushy pogies which are hard to work with and don't stay on the hook well at all. Once you put a section of the pogie on the hook, you then want to try and bury it to hide the hook, I usually try to bury the knot as well. A 100lb. tuna fish has an eye a little bit bigger than a golf ball and they use them. They can see very good, especially if the water is clear, and they will not hit a piece of bait with the hook hanging out about 70% of the time. There are days when they will hit anything but most days you will have to do everything to up your chances of success. Once your baited up you drop the hook with bait into the water and feed the line out. Throw a handful of pogies right where you dropped your bait in and let your line drift back with those pieces of pogie. It is extremely important to let the bait drift back naturally in the current without stopping it. You want it to look just like all the other pieces with no hook in them. Some days the fishi will be feeding on the surface right next to the boat, therefore you may only have to pull five to ten feet of line out. Those days are absolutely awesome, watching several tuna in the 100lb. size range feed next to the boat will cause unbelievable excitement by those involved. Other days they may feed 30-40 yards back, if not further than that behind the boat and you will have to pull a lot of line out. It mostly depends on how fast the current is moving. The faster the current is moving, usually the more line you will have to pull out. You always will want to pull from the end of the rod, not from the spool. 100 yards is usually more than enough. Once you've reached that point, if you haven't gotten a fish on by then, reel it up and start over. Also, very importantly, keep the chum line going. Someone will have to cut pogies while everyone else fishes. This style of fishing does have a little bit of a learning curve involved. You really have to pay attention to your line at all times. Once you see is start to straighten out, you've got something on. A lot of the time it is very fast and you don't have a lot of time to make the hook set, so you've go to be prepared. One of the most confusing things about chunking is knowing the current. Some days you have a surface current moving in one direction, and 30ft. down you have a different current moving in the opposite direction, usually where the thermocline is. So what will happen is once you get you bait in, it may drift 20-30 yards straight out from the boat and down, when it hits the opposite moving current which would be moving back towards the boat and the fish hits it you may get some slack in there and not know it. When the fish hits it it may be even with the boat underwater, you may think it is still straight out there because of the belly in the line, the fish makes a run, the line comes tight and he's on the other side of the boat. So be ready to grab the rod and get on the other side of the boat quickly if you have to. Some days you may want to give him a second to see if he swims back. To set the hook, do not take the rod out of the rod holder. Best thing to do is to slide the lever drag forward to strike and let the fish hook himself. You should be at 20% of the break strength of the line at strike. Depending on how hard the fish is pulling out line you can go to Strike for two seconds to make sure the hook is set deep, then back it off a little until the initial run stops. The first run is going to be the hardest run most of the time. After the initial run, push your drag back to strike and fight your fish. If the fish is 150+lbs. your going to be in for a long fight most of the time.
Fishing during the winter can be very rewarding but at the same time very demanding. You need to make sure all of your equipment is in the absolute best condition it can be in. The last thing you want to do is get out there, have the opportunity for an unbelievable day of fishing only to have all of your equipment fail. You can never be over prepared for a day of Tuna fishing. Most folks can usually judge how good of a day of Tuna fishing they had by how much stuff was broken. Even as a professional fisherman we come back with un-spooled reels, broken rods, lost rods, bent or lost gaffs, straightened out hooks, ripped clothing, and beat up hands. Just be sure to have all of your equipment ready to go without having to try and find it when you need it. Being prepared and organized with everything you need will usually result in a very successful day of fishing.
Here are a few pics. of what we catch during the winter months fishing out of Venice, La.